Sexual harassment allegation by Gwalior judge highlights dark side of judicial system

Madhya Pradesh High Court
The allegations made by additional district and sessions judge in Gwalior against Madhya Pradesh High Court judge has brought back light on sexual harassment that women lawyers and legal professionals face.

The recent allegations levelled by a district and sessions judge who was heading the Vishaka committee against sexual harassment highlights the seriousness of the issue. The judge at such a higher post, could not save herself from prying eyes of the High Court judge. And when she failed to withstand the pressure, she put down her papers to protect her dignity, womanhood and self-esteem.

The victim was posted as additional district and sessions judge in Gwalior in October 2012. In April 2013, she was appointed chairperson of District Vishaka Committee.

According to reports, in her complaint to the Chief Justice of Supreme Court, she alleged that the judge sent her a message through the district registrar to "perform dance on an item song" at a function in his residence.

Dark side of the courts

A few months back, a young woman accused a retired Supreme Court judge of sexually harassing her while he was in office. The woman said that she was harassed while she interned for Justice Swatenter Kumar in 2011. Though the former judge denied the charges and even sued the newspapers who published the former intern's allegations against him.

Not only this, another woman intern had levelled similar allegations against a retired Supreme Court judge. She alleged that Justice Ganguly had sexually harassed her in a hotel room on December 24, 2012. Hit by the allegation, the Supreme Court constituted the three-judge committee to go into the charge of the intern.

A woman lawyer in Andhra committed suicide due to sexual harassment.

All the above cases highlights the graveness of the issue prevailing in judicial system. This despite passing of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in 2013. Women lawyers often face sexual harassment of varying degrees in the legal profession, mostly dominated by males.

Is there a need to change sexual harassment laws

The sexual harasment laws usually talks about harassment at the 'workplace'. But for the women lawyers, the ‘workplace' is courts. Also, the lawyers practising in the courts are not ‘employees' of the judges. Therefore the definitions of workplace, employees, employers in sexual harassment law needs to be broadened to address the issue.

Not only this, it is very difficult for women lawyers who face harassment in different forms from their colleagues, judges, senior lawyers among others to complain of harassments. Complaining against a senior lawyer or a judge has huge repercussions on their legal career because of the power and influence of judges and lawyers. Law interns, trainees who take training with senior lawyers, judges are more prone to such harassments.

In her complaint, the Gwalior judge said, "The administrative judge, along with district judge and district judge (inspection), possibly made a false, frivolous, baseless and malicious reporting to the chief justice of MP and got me transferred on July 8."

Seeking justice from the CJI, she said, "Only because the perpetrator is as powerful as an 'administrative judge' that he can cast an evil eye on me, and I do not even get a hearing. What system are we following and leading this democracy to?

The court corridors have become a hub where sexual comments are often made openly and where requests for sexual favours are asked from female lawyers or interns. In one such instance, a woman lawyer in Andhra Pradesh even committed suicide due to the sexual harassment.

Moreover, most of the courts round the country either don't have committees to take up sexual harassment cases or if they have the one they are non-functional.

But, setting up complaints committees will not work until the complaints made against senior lawyer or judge are look into seriously.

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